Keating outlines plan for reforming clergy

Saturday, June 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DALLAS _ American bishops left their landmark meeting for home Saturday after choosing Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating for a lead role in a clerical sex abuse policy that involves rank-and-file Roman Catholics in policing the church.

Keating, a Catholic and a former federal prosecutor, was chosen to chair a new National Review Board that will monitor bishops' compliance with the policy and oversee a broad investigation on how the church scandal developed.

Keating outlined the plan on the editorial page of Saturday's New York Times and said the review board could even help in the prosecution of abusive clergy members.

``The commission is capable of calling the public's attention to the bishops who do not follow the guidelines adopted yesterday, and we intend to do so.''

On Friday Keating called the scandal despicable. He also said he would consider calling for the resignation of church leaders who fail to comply with the new policy.

``I am quite confident that the people on the commission will consider and possibly will adopt a very hard view of bishops who move errant clergymen from child to child,'' Keating said. ``It is disgraceful that it happened.''

Asked about Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, whose archdiocese is at the center of the crisis, Keating did not call for his resignation but said ``I haven't been very impressed with the way he's handled those awful cases.''

The national crisis erupted when documents revealed Law allowed a serial pedophile to continue serving, despite parishioner complaints.

Before Friday, Keating's most noted connection with the Roman Catholic church was his statement three years ago that the Pope John Paul II was wrong to oppose the death penalty. Keating, a supporter of capital punishment, said at the time he skipped Mass so he wouldn't have to hear the reading of a letter from Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius Beltran that criticized the governor.

Keating told The Oklahoman that the controversy may have improved his chances of being selected for the board because it showed he would speak candidly and not shy away from disagreements with church leaders.

Keating said he told Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, the prelates president, about the dispute but learned that Gregory already knew about it.

``He said, 'There's no question that you're not an apologist for individual bishops,''' Keating said.

In addition to a national board that would monitor the church's compliance, the bishops' new policy also creates advisory panels dominated by lay people in each diocese to assess abuse claims.

Under the plan, offenders will not be formally removed from the priesthood _ though some could be _ but they will never again be active in church work.

Bishops must work within their communities to establish ``safe environment'' programs that protect children. Confidentiality agreements are mostly barred; the policy says each diocese must ``deal as openly as possible'' with parishioners.